Culture Wars 2.0

My review of the first book about the American art and culture critic Dave Hickey is out in Atheneum Review. Click on the image below to read the full text.

Oppenheimer is the first writer to dedicate an entire book to Dave Hickey, who is now in his early eighties. Although Hickey made occasional public appearances in the 1970s and the 1980s (most notably as a smartly dressed and inexorably clever member of the 1975 panel on William Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line with Tom Wolfe), he came into real prominence in the mid-1990s, with the publication of The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty (Art Issues Press, Los Angeles: 1993) and Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy (Art Issues Press, Los Angeles: 1997). Invitations to speak at various art institutions began to pour in, and Hickey delivered dozens of intrepid lectures in which he dazzled audiences with knowledge and wit, while mocking the academic and museum bureaucrats who paid his honoraria. In 2001 he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the Genius Grant, and in 2006 Hickey won a Peabody Award for his work in the American Masters series documentary about Andy Warhol. The College Art Association honored him with the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism in 1994. His decades-long writing career has included essays on art, music and culture in Rolling StoneArt NewsArtforum, the London Review of Books and Art in America, where he also served as an executive editor.

In 2012 a revised and expanded version of The Invisible Dragon was published by The University of Chicago Press, which also printed 25 Women: Essays on Their Art in 2016, and Perfect Wave: More Essays on Art and Democracy in 2017. In 2014, Pirates and Farmers (Riding Press, London) hit the shelves, sending Twitter into overdrive. There is even a collection of short stories, written in the 1960s and issued in 1989 as Prior Convictions (SMU Press, Dallas). As Hickey’s fame grew, and his readership expanded, a new generation of art students fell under the spell of his artful prose. But he also made enemies along the way and, by the time Pirates and Farmers was published, his detractors were burrowing into his frequent infractions of the tightening PC codes. In his book, Oppenheimer sets out to bring the spotlight back on Hickey’s serious writing.  Penetrating the ruse of his subject’s impish provocations, and fully understanding the power of critical thought, Oppenheimer builds a solid argument for revisiting Hickey’s books—not only because they contain some of the best-ever Anglophone writing on art, but also because we badly need Hickey’s evaluation of the 1990s to help us survive the culture of the 2020s.